Saturday, February 24, 2007
The sun. This luminous disc has inspired people for centuries. Artists, scientists, theologians, poets, and many others have looked upwards to the sun. Consequently, it is only fitting that the men and women of UC Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory sponsor Solar Week (February 26 - March 2, 2007)! This week, the Space Sciences Lab will provide a week long series of Web-based educational classroom activities and games geared for elementary, middle and high school students, on a national and international basis with a focus on the Sun and its interactions with Earth. If you happen to be exploring the solar system, the Solar Week Website offers some great resources!
Thursday, February 22, 2007
As science teachers, we are constantly looking for ways to hook our students. We search for ways to connect the science we teach in the classroom to the world outside the school. By doing this, we make science real and valuable to our students. However, building these connections takes creativity and a lot of research. One of my favorite resources for real-world connections to science is the New York Times’ Science News section. Now, there are a lot of great science periodicals out there. I like Science News because it is published weekly (Tuesdays), provides daily online access, and integrates science with other content areas. For example, have you ever heard of a gyroball? If you are a baseball fan, you may have heard of this innovation in the world of pitching. If you are not a big baseball fan, you may still find the article interesting. It is great example of how science finds its way into every aspect of our lives…including the baseball diamond. Check out the article on the mysterious Gyroball:
From the NY Times: COTTSDALE, Ariz., Feb. 21 — Most major league pitchers throw a fastball, a curveball, a slider and a changeup. Some mix in a sinker. The experimental ones use a knuckleball. None of them throws a gyroball, at least not on purpose.
For most of the past decade, the gyroball seemed to exist mainly in Japanese video games and cartoons. It was a funhouse pitch with a comic book name.
When Japanese television analysts tried to deconstruct the mystifying slider thrown by Daisuke Matsuzaka, they called it a gyroball, partly because the pitch seemed to come from another world.
Monday, February 19, 2007
teacher. In a time where science is often pushed aside to make space for mathematics and language arts, I was excited to hear that Daina was making science accessible to children in pre-kindergarten!
Here is what Daina had in mind. As you probably know, February is American Heart Month. Daina decided that she would use the observance as a jumping off point for a lesson on the heart. She wanted to bring actual hearts into the classroom for her students to explore. When she told me about the idea, my only question was…Can I come!?
When I got to the classroom, Daina had a workspace set up for the activity. On a table in the middle of the room, she had gathered plastic gloves, magnifying glasses, plastic bags, and, of course, hearts. In fact, she had visited the local farmers market and picked up…not one…but two types of hearts (sheep and chicken). When the time came to begin the activity, Daina separated the students into groups and assigned the different groups to learning centers around the classroom. As a result, Daina did not have to buy supplies for the entire class. Instead, she needed just enough for the students working with her at the Heart Learning Center.
When students arrived at the Heart Learning Center, they were given a pair of gloves to protect their hands. After putting on their gloves, Daina talked with students about their ideas about the heart, its shape, and its role in the body.
She asked questions like:
- Does it really look like a heart shape?
- What does the heart do in the body?
- How big is your heart?
The children attempted to answer these questions and, as usual, added a couple of their own. I was absolutely fascinated by the discussion. Children still have the uncanny ability to amaze me with the way they perceive and interact with their world. After the discussion, Daina unpacked the sheep and chicken hearts. To protect the children (and the hearts), she placed the sheep hearts in clear (sealed) plastic bags. With magnifying glasses in hand, the children examined the hearts. They compared the two types of hearts, discovered blood vessels and chambers of the heart, and asked many, many more questions.
The entire activity took approximately 20 minutes. However, in that 20 minutes, the children developed a better understanding of the heart and an appreciation for the natural world. More important, they were given the opportunity to take charge of their own learning. In this one lesson, Daina Perez taught her students to learn. In the end, this is the valuable lesson we can teach our students.
For more information on the heart, check out these sites:
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
I thought I might take second and share with you some of the performing rocks used in Olga’s learning centers. I’ve also included a couple of my own additions.
Ulexite: Ulexite is a desert mineral that combines calcium, sodium, water molecules, and boron in a complicated arrangement. This rock is also known as “TV rock.” Ulexite consists of thin crystals that act like optical fibers, so if you lay it on a page of text, the printing appears projected on the upper surface (like a TV).
Biotite (Black Mica): Biotite is an iron-rich version of muscovite. It is named in honor of Jean Baptiste Biot, a French physicist who first described the optical effects in the mica minerals. When placed between two polarizing filters, biotite creates beautiful patterns of color.
Graphite: Graphite is pure carbon in a crystal form much like that of mica - sheets of strongly linked atoms, with very weak bonds between the sheets. This structure allows graphite to rub off on paper very easily. You can actually write with naturally occurring graphite. That’s why we use graphite in our pencils!
Calcite (also known as Iceland Spar): Calcite is calcium carbonate (CaCO3). Iceland spar is named after classic occurrences in Iceland, where fine calcite specimens can be found as big as your head. If you place Calcite on a sheet of text, the letters behind the calcite are offset and doubled.
Chalk: Chalk is a soft, white, porous form of limestone composed of the mineral calcite. Blackboard chalk, is currently made from the mineral gypsum (calcium sulfate) rather than calcium carbonate. However, you can draw with naturally occurring chalk.
Pumice: Pumice is basically solidified lava froth. Pumice looks solid, but it’s full of pores and spaces and weighs very little. In fact, some pumice will float in water.
Geode: Geodes are essentially rock cavities with internal crystal formations. The exterior of the most common geodes is generally limestone or a related rock, while the interior contains quartz crystals. If you shake a geode, you may hear the quartz crystals rattling around on the inside.
Halite: Halite is natural salt, sodium chloride (NaCl). Salt crystals look like tiny cubes under a microscope. Did you know that some rocks are edible?
Oil Shale: Oil shale is a general term applied to a group of rocks rich enough in organic material (called kerogen) to yield petroleum. If you scratch the surface of oil shale with your fingernail, you can smell oil. Imagine that…a scratch and sniff rock!
Talc: Talc is the softest mineral. Your fingernail will easily scratch it. Talc has a greasy feel and a translucent, soapy look. Baby powder or talcum powder can be created by rubbing two pieces of talc together.
For most teachers, finding rock samples for their classrooms proves to be difficult. Here are some suggestions for building your collection.
Start at Home: Some of the most interesting rocks can be found in your own backyard. Recently, I visited a school that had pieces of brown mica on playground. Building a rock collection with local rocks and minerals makes geology relevant to your students. It is also the cheapest way to begin your collection.
Rock Shows: No…I am not talking about that kind of rock show. You won’t find drums and electric guitars here. You will find lots of interesting rocks, minerals, and fossils. Most cities have geological societies that sponsor annual or semi-annual shows. Many of these shows are intended to help teachers learn about rocks and build their classroom collections. Check the internet (e.g. check this site) for the rock shows in your community.
Rock Swaps: Some teachers have discovered that there are other teachers around the country that are willing to swap rock samples through the mail. Some of these teachers have started their own swapping communities. Others have joined communities that are already up and running (I found this one while searching the net). Either way, trading rocks is a great way to build your collection.
Friday, February 2, 2007
There are a number of cities that host their own Groundhog Day celebrations…complete with their own groundhogs. Here are some of the results from this year:
Punxsutawney Phil (Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania): Early Spring
Wiarton Willie (Wiarton, Ontario): Early Spring
General Beauregard Lee (Lilburn, Georgia): Early Spring
Pee Wee (Mile Square Farm, Vermont): Six more weeks of winter
Dunkirk Dave (Dunkirk, New York): Six more weeks of winter
I know what you are asking. Is there any science behind this whole Groundhog Day thing? I did a bit of research and this is what I found out.
Historically, people have observed animal behavior for clues to changes in the weather. For example, geese flying south is a sign of the coming of fall. The reappearance of hibernating or inactive animals is a sign of winter’s end. When German settlers came to Pennsylvania in the 1700s, they selected the groundhog as their seasonal forecaster.
There may also be a meteorological explanation for groundhog day. It is thought that the observance may have roots in a weather phenomenon described in the Scottish poem below:
If Candlemas Day is bright and clear,
There’ll be two winters in the year.
The idea behind this poem can be found in cultures around the world. In the poem, Candlemas Day refers to February 2nd…Groundhog Day. Farmers in ancient Europe noticed that bright, clear winter days are often very cold. We now know that this is caused by high pressure systems. Areas of high pressure pull cold air down from the north. They also sweep away any clouds that might have provided insulation. Consequently, a bright winter day (one on which a groundhog may see a shadow) may be an indication of more cold days to come.
Of course, none of this is sound evidence that groundhog can actually predict the coming of spring. Instead, groundhogs day can be seen as a celebration of the role of scientific observation and prediction in our world. Every day, we make observations about the world around us, attempt to make meaning of those observations, and create predictions about the way things will happen in the future. Groundhog Day is wonderful example of this. Over the course of time, we have combined our observations of animal behavior and weather to create a system for predicting spring. Does it work? Well, that is a question I will leave to you and your children to explore.
Other great sites to check out on Groundhog Day: